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The importance of safety signals in animal handling and training.

McGreevy, P., Henshall, C., Starling, M., McLean, A., Boakes, R. 2014. The importance of safety signals in animal handling and training. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 9 (6), 382-387



This review considers the importance of safety for various species of domestic animals and explains how the need for safety may motivate them to offer a variety of unwelcome responses. We argue that the value of safety to animals is often overlooked by trainers and handlers. As a result, animal owners, handlers, trainers, and veterinarians are regularly injured, and training may fail. Reinforced responses that increase the animal’s perceived sense of safety but simultaneously endanger the safety of handlers or trainers may lead to the inadvertent training of dangerous responses. This review offers suggestions about how safety can be used effectively and humanely as a resource in operant training. Training calmness in the presence of a specific stimulus that is associated with safety may deserve closer attention. The ethics of creating the need for safety in domestic animals as part of a training regime are discussed. It emerges that the highly prized attribute of so-called trust in animal–trainer dyads may, at least sometimes, be a manifestation of trainers acting as safety signals. Similarly, animals said to have confidence in and regard for their handlers may value the relative safety they afford.